THE BLOG
04/26/2016 07:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2016

Bernie: Create a Tea Party of the Left Within the Democratic Party Now

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Much of my family perished in the Holocaust, so I'm well aware of the danger of repeating the terrible mistake of spending more energy fighting against each other than fighting Hitler's fascist movement. While neither Trump nor Cruz are quite as explicitly genocidal as Hitler intended to be, and made clear in his writings and public talks, I can easily understand those in the Democratic Party today who want to be assured that Bernie Sander's supporters will support a moderate pro-Wall Street, pro-militarism, pro-Netanyahu, and pro-U.S. imperialism candidate like Hillary Clinton, since she, unlike Cruz or Trump, is still likely to support basic civil liberties and human rights for the people of the U.S. and unlikely to jail her critics or incite racism, sexism or homophobia in the U.S.

I'm sure, Bernie, understanding the history of the Holocaust, that you will endorse Hillary rather than allow yourself to be targeted as the cause of her failure to win the election in November, though if she does in fact fail it will be because she was unable to break out of her identification with a status quo that many people experience as deeply oppressive, and unable to overcome her well-earned reputation for being dishonest and unreliable (this latter I personally experienced in the short while in 1993 when Hillary invited me to the White House to discuss the "politics of meaning" I had developed and she had publicly endorsed, and the ensuing media feeding frenzy in which I was repeatedly mis-described as "Hillary's guru" or "the guru of the White House"--but the story of her perfidy with me is for another time). I don't blame you for going that route--the Democrats never blame their own defeats on something wrong or lacking in their approach, but almost always blame it on the evil of the other side and, as in the case of Ted Kennedy's run against Clinton in the 1980 primaries or Ralph Nader's run for the presidency in 2000 as a candidate of the Greens, on those who dare to run against their chosen candidate ("how dare they exercise their right to use democracy to put forward different ideas than ours," the establishment Democrats seem to be saying). You don't need to go down in their history as the person who caused Hillary to lose.

But there is something you can do, and it's not to get a few planks put on the Democratic Platform that will immediately be ignored, as all the party platforms always are, immediately after their conventions are over.

What you can do is organize a force within the Democratic Party that has the same determination to change the direction of that party as the Tea Party had within the Republican Party. The Tea Party was able to totally shift the direction of the Republicans because they were willing to build local insurgencies against fellow Republicans whom they considered "too moderate," and because they had an easy to understand set of principles, like defunding government by reducing taxes. I'd like to call the Democratic Party version the "Love and Justice" movement, but since many Dems are afraid that talking about love will be perceived as too soft or new-agey, call it the Justice and Generosity movement (though Bernie, I believe you would have been far more successful in New York and many other state primaries had you linked your powerful economic and social justice critique of the status quo with a deeper critique of capitalism's ethos of selfishness and materialism, showing as I did in my 2006 national best-seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right) that it is precisely this intrinsic aspect of capitalism that undermines the family and loving relationships and creates a society filled with people who feel deep alienation, aloneness (even in their families) and despair because they find themselves surrounded by people who have internalized this "looking out for number one" and are only caring about themselves). So build an alternative, but let it be radical, not just a yearning for an updated version of the 1930s New Deal, but rather critiquing capitalism and seeking an alternative built on love, justice and environmental sustainability (see my article on what this might look like here).

Bernie, this is the moment to launch that movement. It must be committed to putting forward its own candidates at every level for school boards and city councils to the state houses and state legislatures to the U.S. Congress and the 2020 presidential race. Building it now by calling upon all your supporters in states that already have had their primaries to dedicate their energies to creating state conventions of this new grouping in which they can build the movement now. Now the media will help build it, because you command that media attention. And you can then use any platform you wish to develop for it, and the further development of its national structure, as the focus of your delegates' assemblies at the Democratic National Convention, making it clear that this is NOT an effort to counter Hillary in this election, but to counter all those who would have opposed your agenda had you become President, something that at this moment seems highly unlikely. Once you get to that convention and are still seeming to want to steal Hillary's show, you will be seen as a sore loser. Instead, use this time before the convention to be building the movement that will take over the Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020 and you will be seen as powerful visionary. And doing so doesn't mean that you've given up on a last minute miracle at the convention that gives you the nomination, because you had started your campaign by saying that one of the goals of your campaign was to build such a movement, but till now you haven't given that goal much serious attention. We need you to do it, now, because when left to the activists alone the in-fighting, anti-hierarchy, anti-intellectualism, and anti-structure that have bedeviled the Left for the past forty years will reappear and make it impossible for such a movement to "spontaneously" arise. This is the gift you must give to the country, by using your influence now to create it.

Without that kind of movement, willing to work both within and, if necessary at times, outside the Democratic Party, willing to defeat Democrats in primaries or even to run against them in a general election, the status quo will continue: subservience to Wall Street and the policies favored by the 1% whose money shapes elections on the national and state levels, the false belief that terrorism can be defeated by our own brand of terror (war through drones), fossil fuels will continue to be extracted from the earth and accelerate global warming, millions of people languishing in our prisons (many for nonviolent crimes), social services (child care, health care, elder care, etc.) will continue to be sacrificed on the alter of "no new taxes," the economy will continue to depend on endless "growth" with devastating consequences for the life support system of the planet, the US will continue to have the most expensive and least successful health care and pharmaceuticals in the advanced industrial countries, the values of selfishness and materialism that are the "common sense of global capitalism will continue to pollute friendships and families causing psychic pain and family instability, and cynicism toward government and despair at the possibility of fundamental change will give new opportunities for racist, sexist, xenophobic and fascistic forces to gain public credibility. Pessimistic? No, this is exactly what happened in the past seven years of the Obama presidency, and it will only worsen unless there is some ongoing political movement capable not only of speaking to the economic pain so beautifully articulated by you, Bernie, but also capable of addressing the hidden psychic injuries of the globalization of selfishness that impact not only the poor but almost everyone in the society. Such a movement would be the only there would be a chance to keep Hillary from defecting back to her friends in the ruling elites of the society, should she be elected. But if you wait till after the election, the media will largely ignore it.

So Bernie, use this moment to mobilize your activists in states that have already had their primaries, and have that movement already happening before the Democratic convention in July. You just might find that some of those "super-delegates" have second thoughts if they realize that their jobs may be at stake when a Love and Justice Party emerges in their own home districts.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is

  • editor of Tikkun magazine, the voice of progressive Jews and our interfaith and secular humanist allies,

  • chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives
  • author of 11 books including 'The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right and Embracing Israel and Palestine'
  • He welcomes contact from allies who wish to build this movement: Email him at rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

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